Patriarch Bartholomew: Without a “First Without Equals,” Orthodoxy risks falling into Protestantism

Istanbul, November 16, 2020

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If the Orthodox Church does not clearly proclaim the ecclesiology of a “First Without Equals,” in which the Patriarch of Constantinople enjoys not only a place of honor among his brother primates, but a place above them with special rights and responsibilities, it risks devolving into a Protestant-style federation of churches, Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople believes.

Moreover, in his view, those Churches that abstained from the Council of Crete in 2016 will be judged harshly by history.

In a recent interview with the National Herald, the Patriarch stated that the unity of the Orthodox Church is the greatest agony of his soul today, reports Romfea.

Both the Patriarchate of Constantinople and Patriarch Bartholomew himself personally have done much for the unity of the Church, the Patriarch told the Greek outlet. He recalled that several synaxes of the primates have been convened under his patriarchy, the latest of which took place in Geneva in 2016 as a preparation for that summer’s Cretan council.

“The culmination of our efforts for pan-Orthodox unity and cooperation was the promotion of the preparation and the convocation of the Great and Holy Synod of Crete, which made incisions and put forward an Orthodoxy that cheerfully gives a good testimony to the world and looks to the future, without passively and nostalgically recalling the past,” the Patriarch claimed.

Recall that the council was held without the participation of four Local Churches, leaving the majority of Orthodox Christians unrepresented. The Bulgarian Orthodox Church announced on June 1, 2016 that it would not attend the Council; the Antiochian Church announced on June 6 that it would not attend; and the Georgian Orthodox Church announced on June 10 that it would not attend.

The Churches did not simply withdraw, but rather called for the council to be postponed so that their respective issues could be addressed. The Moscow Patriarchate specifically proposed holding an emergency pre-conciliar session for just this purpose, but Patriarch Bartholomew refused to do so (and thus the Moscow Patriarchate also pulled out of the council), choosing instead to plow ahead without full pan-Orthodox unity.

Nevertheless, Pat. Bartholomew is sure the decision of these Churches will be condemned by history: “Those who did not participate in this council, while participating in its preparation, will be judged by history. I am sure, however, that they will not be praised for this act.”

And turning specifically to ecclesiology, the Patriarch spoke of the danger of becoming Protestants if the Church does not confess his primacy without equals: “We Orthodox must be self-critical and reexamine our ecclesiology if we do not want to become a federation of Protestant churches.”

While it is widely held throughout the Orthodox Church that Pat. Bartholomew’s ecclesiology represents a non-Orthodox deviation from Tradition, in this interview he did not openly speak of a need to “change” Orthodox ecclesiology, as some outlets have reported.

Rather, he is pointing to those Local Churches that do not confess his “First Without Equals” ecclesiology, telling them to return to the Tradition of the Ecumenical Councils, as he sees it.

He stated: “Since in our ordination as bishops we swear to abide by the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils, we must admit that in an indivisible Ecumenical Orthodoxy there is a ‘First,’ not only of honor, but a ‘First’ with special responsibilities and canonical competencies granted by the Ecumenical Councils.”

“This is a guarantee of the preservation of unity over time and the common testimony of Orthodoxy in today’s world,” the Patriarch concluded.

Recall that four Cypriot hierarchs—Metropolitans Athanasios of Limassol, Nikiforos of Kykkos, and Isaiah of Tamassos, and Bishop Nicholas of Amathountos—recently reminded Pat. Bartholomew that his primacy is “not a ‘primacy of power,’ but a ‘primacy of responsibility and service’ for the unity of Orthodoxy, and for the correctness of faith and love.”

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Jean11/17/2020 1:22 pm
This man is out of his mind. He should be deposited
Eugénie W.11/17/2020 10:10 am
... and with a "first without equals", Orthodoxy, or what patr. Bartholomew calls so, has already fallen into roman papism : those who approuved him about the Ukrainian question (the primates of Alexandria, Greece and now Cyprus) have all decided on their own, without the approval of their Synods, like "little popes" in their respective Churches, in a way that even the pope would probably not use nowadays on such an important question !
Matthew11/17/2020 1:25 am
So, to avoid becoming like Protestants, we need to become like Papists?
Prokop11/17/2020 12:27 am
And if old Pat-Bartholomew got his desired power, I'm sure he would be more than happy to spit on the holy tradition of more than just ecclesiology, which would make certain shadowy powers smile. Prepare for "Woke Orthodoxy"? May his namesake Saint pray for him.

Thank God that Christ our God promised us the gates of Hell would never tread on the Church. Lord have mercy!
David11/16/2020 10:34 pm
Meyendorff triggers the idea in me that the role of first among equals is to enable and enrich conciliarity. The actual use of the language first without equal diminishes the channel by which we ecclesiastically unite with our savior. The self assertion of first without equal suggests on some level a singular, special and solitary channel of authority.
Alex11/16/2020 10:23 pm
I think that the bishop of Istanbul needs a reality check.
Mikhail11/16/2020 9:52 pm
I am pleased that he has fully removed his mask. Now we can see if the the other Orthodox Churches speak out against this heresy, or maintain a quiet cowardice. To not stand against this, is tantamount to agreeing with it.
Steve11/16/2020 9:33 pm
The unity of all Christianity is solely in Christ Himself as the Head. Even though there are many expressions of Christianity and many divisions, it is the headship of Christ alone that makes them all Christian, not some Patriarch. There are many, many Christians who do not recognize the authority of Patriarch Bartholomew. Why doesn't Mike Pompeo defend the right of Christians to have freedom from the authority of the Ecumenical Patriarch?
Bob11/16/2020 9:11 pm
His attitude, beliefs, and actions are exactly the reason FOR Protestantism. Don't judge the Protestants harshly. God will be the final judge.
Steve11/16/2020 6:24 pm
Protestantism?! I resemble that accusation!
James11/16/2020 5:26 pm
Well, even if the canons said what he pretends they say, we'd just apply 'economia' and abrogate them, as he does when allows priests to re-marry.
John11/16/2020 5:11 pm
"a place above them with special rights and responsibilities." I think everyone agrees the EP has /some/ special rights and responsibilities. But going into other churches' canonical territory and establishing new churches with unordained laymen is not among them.
Alexander Leitner11/16/2020 4:35 pm
He is a protestant himself!
Gary11/16/2020 3:53 pm
The arrogance of this is astounding. Does he really think that only Constantinople can preserve the Church and not Christ? This is a full frontal attack! An attempted power grab! Will he succeed? Will the Patriarchs of the Church bow down to him and turn their back on their flock? I pray our Bishops and Patriarchs stand firm and not cave in to this madness!
Gary11/16/2020 3:30 pm
This is so absurd that I am at a loss for words.
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